It was a mock incident that many participants might have described as a "fun" learning experience, but it was also serious business.
It was a mock incident that many participants might have described as a “fun” learning experience, but it was also serious business.
The scenario centered on an unidentified terrorist using an incendiary device to ignite a potentially lethal fire in a railway tanker car filled with flammable ammonia outside the Arkansas Railroad Museum here Wednesday morning.
Area emergency responders working in unison quickly capped the situation, pretending to shoot down the terrorist after he fled into the museum and then extinguishing the fire and defusing a possibly deadly explosion of the tanker in the process, but not before several railway employees, museum staffers and visitors and emergency workers were “killed” or “injured” in the scenario.
The graphic exercise was so realistic that a couple of federal Homeland Security agents motoring past on Interstate 530 stopped to see what was going on, and then decided to stay, observe and help evaluate.
Wesley Hunt, Jefferson County Office of Emergency Management public information officer, termed the drill “successful.”
“This all-hazards exercise capitalized, reinforced and provided feedback on the training of the participating agencies,” Hunt said. “It also helped to develop, sustain and provide feedback on the proficiency in the tasks that make up critical emergency response operations. It was a learning opportunity for the responders to examine the unique aspects of responding to all-hazard incidents.”
Some mistakes were made, but those errors were critiqued and transformed into learning opportunities during a follow-up “hotwash” in which participants exchanged viewpoints on how they might do better in a “real life” crisis.
Made possible in part by an Arkansas Department of Emergency Management grant, the event brought out representatives of area law enforcement agencies and fire and rescue services, the American Red Cross, Jefferson Regional Medical Center, ambulance companies and a group of area high school and Southeast Arkansas College students who – complete with “bloody” make-up – portrayed victims of the terrorist’s assault.
At the courthouse, the emergency operations center was activated and officials of Jefferson, Cleveland and Lincoln counties, area municipalities and the state gathered to help oversee the response effort and manage communications with the media and public. Pine Bluff Mayor Carl Redus Jr. was among the elected officials participating.
“It went well,” Hunt said.
He pointed out that the response included actual ambulance transport of victims to JRMC for medical treatment, a hazardous materials team establishing and utilizing a decontamination station, a joint law enforcement SWAT (special weapons and tactical) team to respond to the terrorist, and a deployed Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office boat fleet that monitored the nearby Arkansas River for related criminal activity.
Hunt said Jefferson County OEM Coordinator Karen Quarles was a “primary organizer” of the exercise.